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new here: complications due to cervical compression fracture

I've been living in chronic pain for a while now (not nearly as long as some of the users on here, but it still feels like eternity) and just found this forum. I love the idea of being able to talk about this with other sufferers rather than (or, at least, in addition to) whining on to family/friends and/or shutting myself away to prevent said whining.

This is kind of a long story, so apologies in advance, but that's part of what these forums are for, right?

About a year and a half ago, I'd just finished the first year of my Ph.D. program (after taking a year off to work with and ride horses professionally). Horses and riding have always been extremely important to me, but as a grad student I'm also broke, so I found a barn near my program to work at. I was hand-walking a horse who'd had surgery and been on stall rest for a few months (and who was, understandably, full of pent-up energy); he spooked at something, reared up, and came down on top of me. All I remember are hooves everywhere; I honestly don't know how I escaped being stepped on. I could get up, though, and walk, so I assumed everything was fine. For the next few days I just took a lot of the ibuprofen and robaxin at the barn and gritted my teeth around the tears. Finally, I stopped riding and started physical therapy; after a month of no improvement, I was sent to the campus ortho for x-rays and an MRI. I remember a PA coming into my room and setting me up in a giant collar immediately without a word; through the open door I saw what looked to be everyone on that floor of the hospital gathered around the nurses' station staring at something (which I later learned were my x-rays).

My C6 vertebrae is at an unnatural angle; C7 has a giant notch at the top into which a corner of C6 fits perfectly. I should've been paralyzed. The ortho told me if I'd come in after the accident he'd have sent me to an OR immediately. As it was, I was lucky; my neck had somehow stayed stable enough for long enough that surgery wasn't necessary. I wore the collar for months, then went back to PT, then, finally, thought I was healed. At this point I'd lost my job at the barn for obvious reasons, but I always assumed I'd be able to start riding again at some distant point in my future filled with other magical words: degree, job, tenure.

Fast-forward about six months. I'd started running to fill the space that riding left: only three times a week, gradual 12-week 10k training program, nothing crazy, never any notable neck pain other than the usual weather/sleeping-related stiffness I'd gotten used to. The day I finished my last training run, I was working at my computer and must have turned my head in an unusual way: I felt a terrifying jolt of pain, and the increased pain wouldn't go away. The next day I felt some tingling numbness spreading down my left arm into the last two fingers. I panicked and went to the ER, had another x-ray; went back to the ortho, had another MRI. Lots of arthritic changes, but nothing unexpected; I just wasn't supposed to suffer these kinds of complications for another 20 years or so. Sent back to PT for another month of frustration and failure to improve. I learned that 20-somethings who don't have exciting and potentially life-threatening injuries aren't taken seriously by doctors. After a month and a half of unending pain (during which time I was taking tramadol and methocarbamol like candy, ibuprofen to the point of stomach ulceration, because I had nothing else), I went back to the ortho and broke down in tears in his office. I learned that this is what it takes to get some hydrocodone and a referral to a pain management dr.

Four days ago, I went in for steroid injections in my facet joints from C6-T1, and now I'm still in pain, if anything even worse than before. I know it takes longer than four days for the injections to have an effect, and that I'll probably have to go in again for more procedures, but this whole process has been so disheartening that I think I've lost the ability to hope. I've been on antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds for years, but they're no longer enough. I'm still taking too much ibuprofen and muscle relaxants despite their ineffectiveness; I take the hydrocodone (which is the only thing I've tried that at least helps take the worst of the pain off) very sparingly, because I still have trouble getting prescriptions. It's been over three months since I've been able to work on my research, since sitting at a computer for long periods of time is impossible, or do any sort of exercise other than PT. I'll probably never ride again, and I'm doubting my ability to finish the degree. I can't take time off because I wouldn't be able to pay rent (which is difficult enough with all these procedures) and I wouldn't have health insurance.

Anyway, I'm not sure what I'm looking for in writing this, but it felt good just to do it, so my thanks for that. And apologies, again, to those of you who made it through my pity-party.
compression fracture C6-C7 (7/11), developed spondylosis and possible annular tear(s);
facet injections C6-T1 (1/4/13)


  • Hi Phil:
    I'm so sorry for your pain. You appear to be a young man if you are in grad school. So, time is on your side. I had a cervical neck injury when I was in my 20's. At the time the orthopedic surgeon said it was a reversal of the S curve in my neck. He wasn't sure if it had occurred at birth, because sometimes an infant can have that happen in the birth canal. I knew better, because I had suffered an unusual fall in a hot air balloon when it landed badly.
    I was in severe pain for maybe 8 years. Then, miraculously the pain lessened. I think my body finally accepted the "new normal" of my neck. There are still things that I cannot do. I can't look up at someone or something for any length of time. That will hurt. I've learned to live with the discomfort of my neck and to compensate.
    Maybe 8 years seems an eternity to you. But, thankfully you did not get paralyzed. I am hoping for the best for you and that you body can heal naturally. It will never be the same as before the accident. But if you are lucky the pain will subside for you like it did for me.

    I wish you the best of luck. And don't give up hope. The body is a wonderful mechanism and healing is possible.
  • ...if you are concerned that the medical field is not listening to you because of your age, do you know someone older who can go with you and be your advocate? A parent? A feisty grandparent or aunt/uncle? A co-worker? An older friend who can speak up and not allow them to run over you in this way?

    While it may not be fair, the goal is to get you treated, treated well and healed, so if it takes bringing in the cavalry, then you have nothing to lose by at least trying that for the next appointment.

    Good luck to you!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
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  • Don't give up, there won't be many easy answers on your spine journey, but they are out there. One of the most difficult parts of my spine journey, not discounting the pain, has been to accept a new normal and what I can no longer do. I was an avid runner, not a speed demon but loved the satisfaction I would get from running, those days are gone, along with mountain biking, hiking, restoring a 100 yr old house, etc. I'm still hanging onto gardening and cooking as they are a few of the ACTIVities I have left.
    Have you asked your ortho doc to refer you to pain management? Agree you need to advocate for yourself and if necessary bring reinforcements, there's no guarantee that meds will get you pain free but you shouldn't be in pain and not have access to meds if they will work for you.
    Let us know how you are doing and come vent when you need to, there is usually someone on the boards .
    laminectomy c4/c5 2008, ACDF c4-c7 Jan 20 2014 sched
  • philgradRSpphilgradRS Posts: 4
    edited 01/09/2013 - 10:14 AM
    (I'm female, actually; apologies for the misleading username! ;) "phil" is for "philosophy," 'cause I'm a nerd.)

    Thank you all so much for your kindness and support! It really means a lot to know that there are others out there who care and understand (understanding, really, is crucial). Still stubbornly fighting the idea of a new normal -- can't stop being convinced that I deserve my old life back, or something silly like that -- so it's inspiring that you've managed to find things to care about despite everything lost. Some day I'll get there, hopefully.

    Bringing reinforcements is a good idea: I really wish I could bring my mom, since she's terrifying when need be and also a doctor, but unfortunately we live about as far across the country as possible from each other. I had to take the last hydrocodone this morning, and it's terrifying and frustrating to know that even that tiny edge of relief is impossible, due entirely to a dr's whims. I'm just hoping I can make it through the next few days and then the injections will work and I won't need the meds anyway. (See, optimism! Hah. If only I believed it...)

    I was referred to a pain management doc to do the injections, but I'm supposed to follow up with the ortho. I'm hoping I might be able to start seeing the pm instead, though, as she seemed much more sympathetic (she did, after all, see me try desperately not to cry just to keep my neck in the position required!).
    compression fracture C6-C7 (7/11), developed spondylosis and possible annular tear(s);
    facet injections C6-T1 (1/4/13)
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